LEGO Builder’s Journey Review: A Surprisingly Contemplative Puzzler
As much as I have loved various LEGO games over the past few gaming generations, I’ve always felt like very few of them tapped into the core of what makes LEGO so great. Since I was a child, LEGO has, to me at least, always been about sitting down with a pile of bricks, usually with a friend, and creating something completely random and off the cuff. LEGO has always been a toy that embraces creativity, and as good as some LEGO games have been in recent years, very few of them have nailed that aspect.
Lego Builders Journey, developed by Light Brick Studio and having finally made its way to PS5, is honestly the first LEGO game I’ve played where I genuinely feel as though the developers truly understand what has given LEGO its seemingly eternal appeal. And, as a result, they have produced something truly great.
A Serene Block Puzzler
At its core, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a relatively straightforward puzzle game, with the player being presented with a linear series of puzzles, each taking place in its own little diorama stuffed full of LEGO bricks, with the next puzzle being unlocked upon completion of the prior. The bulk of the puzzles have you creating solutions from an assortment of bricks, with the aim usually being to create a path that enables a young child to move from one side of the diorama to the other. Whilst the concept is extremely simple, it’s how the puzzles are presented and the story behind them that elevates LEGO Builders Journey from a charming puzzler, into a truly heart-warming experience.
I use the term story loosely, as there is no narrative in the traditional sense. You don’t get any voice acting, or even on-screen dialogue to contextualize what is going on. Instead, you’ll piece the light narrative together purely through the puzzles you’ll be solving.
Early stages will have the player piecing together bridges across what looks like mountainous terrain. As you start constructing your solution on screen, it becomes clear that you are actually creating a path for a young child to reach their parent on the other side of the numerous obstacles. See, they’re out enjoying some parent and child bonding time on a hike together, and it’s on you, the builder, to ensure that the kid has a safe passage throughout.
Magic In The Mundane
Other scenes similarly focus on this bond between parent and child. During my time playing LEGO Builder’s Journey, I’ve helped the duo create stunning sandcastles by the beach, I’ve created skateboard ramps to help the nipper navigate a dangerous underground cave on his quest to find their parent at work, and I’ve even helped build a fort out of the front of their home as the child eagerly awaits their parents return from a soul-crushing job; the type you can only assume they maintain to be able to provide for their family.
The scenarios you’re faced with, and dilemmas you are expected to solve aren’t exactly the most exciting of set pieces, but the beauty of each puzzle lies in how relatable each scene is. It’s an experience that finds the magic in the mundane, and I challenge anyone to play through the relatively brisk two hours it takes to beat every puzzle and not be touched by at least one sequence.
The scenes that struck a chord with me, in particular, were those in which the parent would leave their child to go and work a job that they clearly weren’t enjoying. I’ve been on both ends of that equation, as both the parent doing something just to make ends meet and the child eagerly awaiting the return of the most important person in their life. To say these scenes moved me would be an understatement, as they brought me back to various periods of my own life and provided me with a pause for thought.
It’s all wonderfully open to interpretation as well. Given the lack of dialogue and explicit narrative, someone else might take something completely different from LEGO Builder’s Journey, depending on how they relate to what is happening on-screen. In any event, the scenes are both simultaneously vague and specific enough that I think everyone who plays it will find it to be a deeply personal experience.
Complementing the serene and thought-provoking nature of LEGO Builder’s Journey are the visuals and sound design. The diorama LEGO brick arrangements tend to be detailed enough that you can tell what the image is trying to convey, but at the same time being vague enough in most instances that you can let your imagination plug the gaps.
The music is also an absolute treat. Never dominating a scene, but always bubbling lightly away in the background, it really brings the sometimes melancholic and contemplative nature of the game to the forefront. It’s perfectly suited to the whimsical nature of the gameplay, and I lost count of the number of times I’d just sit and stare and listen, absorbed by the perfect way in which the visuals and sound came together.
Thankfully the actual process of playing LEGO Builder’s Journey is just as enjoyable as that journey it takes players on, for the most part at least. The puzzles are usually straightforward enough to not cause too much frustration, whilst also being challenging enough that each solution feels rewarding.
At the top, I mentioned that the developers seem to truly understand the appeal of LEGO, and what I meant by that is how malleable LEGO is in terms of being able to build whatever your imagination is capable of with enough effort. In terms of how that freedom translates to LEGO Builder’s Journey, it’s in how there is rarely one defined solution for any given puzzle.
The objective is always clear, but how you achieve that objective is typically up to your own creativity. This is especially true in the early game, where the objective is generally just to create paths from A to B, and I found immense satisfaction in the fact that I wasn’t working out some pre-determined path that the developers intended me to follow. Instead, I was using my own imagination to slot bricks in and piece them together in an ad-hoc fashion to create my own answers to the problems faced, much like I have done when faced with a pile of actual LEGO bricks over the years.
Late Game Frustrations
Unfortunately, that leads me neatly to my first and biggest gripe with LEGO Builder’s Journey. About three-quarters of the way through my playthrough, I noticed that the puzzle solutions started to get a lot more obtuse and narrow in scope, which, for me personally, really hurt the flow of the game.
Faced with complex contraptions that required very specific pieces to be used, the experience transformed from something that embraces player imagination, into an exercise in frustration. I think many will welcome the additional challenge that the later stages bring along, as, to be honest, the challenge is largely absent from the earlier stages. Still, I just couldn’t help but feel that it hurt the nigh on perfect pacing and atmosphere up until that point.
It’s with these more prescribed puzzles that the controls also become a slight point of contention. It’s not that you’re asked to do anything different, you’re still just slotting virtual bricks into place, however, the fiddly nature of the controls, on the controller at least, can mean getting a block exactly where you want it to go can become an issue. In the earlier stages, the lack of precision isn’t anywhere near as noticeable given the freedom you have to create your own solutions, so it isn’t enough of a problem that it ruins the overall experience, but it is something that stuck with me as I finished my playthrough.
A Journey Worth Taking
Even with those annoyances mentioned, LEGO Builder’s Journey is an experience I can’t help but recommend, both to fans of puzzle games and anyone who enjoys a slower, more thoughtful experience. Going into LEGO Builder’s Journey, I couldn’t help but wonder where the “Journey” element would come in. Having played it, however, I think it’s clear that the intent was to bring the player on a journey of emotion, something I can safely say was achieved. It may not resonate with everyone in the way in which it resonated with me, but I think that’s the beauty of it, as this is a game that is likely to mean many different things, to many different people. And, even if you’re a hardened soul who refuses to be moved by plastic bricks, it’s not a half-bad puzzle game to boot.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available On: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC; Publisher: LEGO Games; Developer: Light Brick Studio; Players: 1; Released: 19 April, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher